pink blooming Parry's penstemon

Springtime in the desert southwest is a glorious time.

We say “goodbye” to cold, winter temperatures and delight in the landscape around us and it bursts into bloom.

I enjoy spending time outdoors this time of year, realizing that soon I will go into what I like to call ‘summer hibernation’ as the temperatures reach triple digits.

Today, I thought that I would share with you some beautiful, pink flowering plants that are in bloom right now…

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Pink fairy duster shows off its pink flowers once a year in spring.  The rest of the year, it quietly recedes into the background until spring arrives again.

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)

My favorite prickly pear has vibrant, pink flowers throughout spring.  One of the reasons that I like beavertail prickly pear is that it stays rather small and does not become overgrown like other species can.

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

I’m a sucker for plants that produce flowering spikes, like Parry’s penstemon.  It has such a delicate, pink color and hummingbirds find it irresistible.

Pink California Poppy

Pink California Poppy

Did you know that the traditional, orange California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) comes in other colors?  I think I’m in love with the pink variety.

'Raspberry Ice' Bougainvillea

‘Raspberry Ice’ Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea makes an excellent container plant. All you have to do is water them deeply and then allow them to dry out before watering again.  Although I have a deep, magenta bougainvillea in my own garden – I must admit that I really like the variety ‘Raspberry Ice’ which has cream-colored brachts with pink tips.

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'

Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’

Although traditionally a summer-bloomer, this pink gaura was already blooming in March.  It makes a great filler for container gardens in the warm season.

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri)

Pink, cup-shaped blooms cover Mexican evening primrose in spring.  This groundcover looks great in natural desert landscapes, but can be invasive, so be careful where you use it.

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

The one beauty of this spiny cactus are its magenta flowers that appear in spring.  

To conclude, here is my favorite pink-flowering beauty from my own garden…

Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana)

Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana)

This lovely shrubby vine blooms in spring and fall. I love viewing its blooms through my kitchen window. 

I encourage you to add one (or more) pink-flowering beauties in your landscape this spring!

Landscape No-No

Photo: Landscape No-No

Have you ever driven past a landscape that had some problems with it?  As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, my attention diverts whenever I see ‘Landscape No-No’s’ like this one.

Awhile ago, I shared the photo of the landscape, above, on my Facebook page and invited people to identify three things wrong with the landscape.  I received a lot of comments including “looks like Versailles by the inept” and “shrubs arranged like funny looking ottomans spread across gravel.”  

It’s important to not that my reasons for showing examples like this aren’t to shame the homeowners. Instead, my goal is to help others to learn to identify problems and give them easy steps to correct or avoid them in the first place.

So, using this landscape as an example, let’s look at the problems and later, focus on how to solve them:

shrubs pruned the wrong way

1. Shrubs are planted too closely together.  

It’s obvious that there are too many plants in this area and the mature size of the shrubs wasn’t factored in the original design.  The types of flowering shrubs in this area – desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis),  Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), and ‘Green Cloud’ sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) are good choices. The problem is that they are spaced too closely together and pruned the wrong way.

2. Lack of different plant types. 

As you can see, there is a tree, a couple of succulents (prickly pear cactus & yucca), and a LOT of shrubs.  However, the landscape suffers from an overabundance of shrubs.  

3. Incorrectly pruned flowering shrubs. 

These lovely, flowering shrubs have been turned into anonymous, green blobs, lacking in beauty and character.  In fact, you would have to look closely to be able to identify what each shrub is.  The problem has to do with what is missing from this landscape, which are attractive shrubs allowed to grow into their natural shapes, covered in colorful flowers.  Other problems associated with maintaining flowering shrubs this way is that it is stressful for the plant, shortens their lifespan, causes to them to use more water to regrow their leaves, and creates more maintenance.

Now that we have identified the problems, we can now look at the solutions.  I will use the landscape above as my example:

landscape-no-no-badly-pruned-shrubs
  • Remove excess shrubs.  Take out 24 of the existing 32 shrubs so that you are left with eight flowering shrubs.  To decide what shrubs to remove, learn what type of shrub they are and look up how large they are at maturity.  Then, make sure that the ones that remain have enough room to grow.  Shrubs should be places up near the house, to anchor the corners of the landscape, and flank an entry.
  • Severely prune back remaining shrubs.  One of the things I love about shrubs is that quite a few have a ‘restart button’ where much of the damage that has been done due to excessive pruning can be reversed.  Severe renewal pruning entails pruning back shrubs to approximately 1 1/2 feet tall and wide in spring. You’ll have nothing left but woody branches and little to no leaves.  However, this stimulates plants to produce new, healthy growth. This type of pruning should be done in spring.  The key is to keep hedge trimmers away from your newly pruned shrubs forever. Any pruning should be done using hand pruners, loppers, and pruning saws.  This will work with most shrubs except for a few that were in declining health.
Which one would you rather have? Learn how to maintain shrubs the right way in the desert garden in my popular shrub pruning workshop

Photo: Which one would you rather have? Learn how to maintain shrubs the right way in the desert garden in my popular shrub pruning workshop

  • Incorporate lower-growing plants such as groundcovers and succulents. A well-designed landscape has plants with varying heights, including those at ground level.  For the landscape above, I’d add a few boulders and plant some gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) and twin-flower agave (Agave geminiflora) alongside them.  Other ideas for low-growing succulents include ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, Moroccan mound, and artichoke agave.  Flowering groundcovers would also look nice like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), and sandpaper verbena (Glandularia rigida).  I like to use damianita, trailing lantana, and penstemon for color at lower heights.
Texas sage shrub with natural shape

Photo: Attractive desert landscape with room for plants to grow

Here is a snapshot of a landscape area at the Desert Botanical Garden where plants have room to grow and are allowed to grow into their natural shape and form.

Transforming the problematic landscape shown earlier, and others like it isn’t difficult, and the results are dramatic.  What you are left with is a beautiful landscape filled with healthy plants that use less water and needs little maintenance.

If you are tired of shapeless shrubs shaped like green blobs, I invite you to learn more about how to prune ‘right’ way in my online Shrub Pruning Workshop.

Roses Feeling The Heat

Photo: Roses Feeling The Heat , My Abraham Darby shrub rose and my little dog, Tobey.

If you live in a hot arid climate, chances are that your roses are feeling the heat and aren’t looking their best right now. While gardeners in cooler climates celebrate summer with beautiful rose blooms, the opposite is true for those of us who live in the desert.

Surprisingly, roses actually grow quite well in hot, southwestern zones, and even though mine look somewhat sunburned – I’m not worried because this is normal.  

You see, roses that are grown in the low desert regions, don’t like the intense sun and heat that summer brings. As a result, the flowers become smaller, and the petals burn in the sun and turn crispy.  By July, you are unlikely to see any new roses appearing until Fall.

Roses Feeling The Heat

The rose blooms aren’t the only parts of the roses affected by the summer heat – the leaves can become sunburn.  

The sight of brown crispy petals and leaves may make you want to prune them away, but don’t.    

Why?

Pruning will stimulate new growth that will be even more susceptible to sunburn damage.  Second, the older branches and leaves will help to shade the growth underneath the sun.  

I know that it is very hard not to prune away the brown leaves – I feel you. However, in September, pull out your pruning shears and prune back your rose bushes by 1/3. This removes the sun-damaged flowers and leaves, and stimulates new growth. 

Roses Feeling The Heat

If you lament the less than stellar appearance of your summer roses and feel that it’s easier to grow roses in other climates, you would be wrong. 

Oh, certainly, we have to deal with our roses not looking great in the summer.  But, compare that with gardeners in other regions who have to deal with the dreaded Japanese beetle that shows up every summer and eats their roses. Or, people who live in more humid climates and are having to deal with severe cases of blackspot or powdery mildew (white spots on the leaves).    

Lastly – we are fortunate to enjoy two separate bloom seasons for our roses.  In fall, when many other gardeners are putting their roses to bed for the winter, ours are getting ready to bloom a second time that year.

Roses Feeling The Heat

And so, I will ignore my less than beautiful roses this summer, because I know that they will look fantastic this fall 🙂

Two New Roses Find a Home in a Desert Garden

Life has been awfully busy lately.  So much so, that it has affected me from doing blogging as regularly as I like to do.  So, I would like to take a little time to let you know what I have been up to this past month.

Work has seen me driving me from one corner of the Phoenix metro area to the other, meeting with clients and helping them to create beautiful outdoor spaces.  In fact, I broke my record for the most landscape consultations in a single month.  Now that the holidays are here, work has slowed down a little.

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

A beautiful succulent, Euphorbia trigona

One thing that I enjoy about visiting new clients is that I get to see impressive specimen plants like this Euphorbia trigona that flanked the entry of the Phoenix home.

beautiful succulent

beautiful succulent

This is a truly beautiful succulent that lends a tropical look to the landscape.  It is very frost tender and must be protected when temperatures dip into the 30’s.  I’d say it’s worth the effort for a plant like this.

Coyote

Coyote

Encounters with wildlife happens often during my work.  However, seeing a coyote in the middle of the day is rather rare.  As I was driving home from a consultation, I saw this beautiful coyote walk across the street.  I stopped my car and it stood off to the side of road while I took a few pictures with my phone.

Coyote

While I’ve seen a number of coyotes over the years, most often their appearance reflects the hardship of living in the desert.  However, this coyote was the healthiest one that I’ve encountered.

Coyote and

I think that it enjoyed the attention that I was giving it as it stood still for several seconds before walking off into the desert.

video shoot

Christmas is my favorite season of the year.   I enjoy shopping for the perfect gift, decorating the house, baking my favorite desserts, singing along to Christmas music in the car, and rejoicing in the reason for Christmas.

video shoot

Earlier this week, we filmed a video segment for our church’s upcoming Christmas Eve services.  We were asked to share the story of our daughter Ruthie’s adoption along with her cousin Sofie.  They were best friends in the orphanage when my sister and her family adopted Sofie back in 2006.  One year later, my husband and I went to China and adopted Ruthie.  So, they are not just best friends, but cousins.

video shoot

We taped the video at my sister’s house, which took over 3 hours.  The segment will probably only be 3 – 4 minutes in length, but I can hardly wait to see their story shared and hope that it will inspire others.  I will be sure to share it with all of you at that time.

I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying this holiday season.

10 Cold Hardy Succulents That Add Beauty to the Winter Landscape

I love springtime in the desert when it comes alive in shades of yellow, orange and pink.  

Beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Cactus Flowers, Beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Last week, while I was driving through a residential area nestled in the desert mountains, I could hardly keep my eyes on the road.

Cactus Flowers springtime in the desert

Everywhere I turned, there were brightly colored cactus blooming.  It’s a small miracle that I didn’t crash into the curb as I drove closer.

spring in the desert Southwest

Even though this is my 31st spring in the desert Southwest, watching prickly cactus transform into colorful accents never ceases to amaze me.

Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog

Cactus Flowers, Strawberry Hedgehog

I like to see smaller cacti such as claret cup and strawberry hedgehog planted alongside boulders for a mix of textures.  The cactus also like the opportunity for their roots to be shaded by the boulder.

Cactus Flowers

The colors of flowering cacti range from shades of orange, pink, red and yellow.

Cactus Flowers

There are so many different types of flowers that it can be hard to identify them all.  But, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying their pretty flowers.

Cactus Flowers

The flower petals are somewhat waxy and sturdy.  Bees flock to the open blooms.

Cactus Flowers

Prickly pear cacti are particularly spectacular this time of year, and their flower color varies depending on the species.

Cactus Flowers

I can hardly wait to see all the blossoms begin to open.

Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria)

Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria)

I must confess that I don’t have a lot of cactus in my garden – I am more of a flowering shrub and perennial gal.  But, I do have a few cactus tucked in here and there that I have obtained over the years.

My favorite it a small pincushion cactus, which produces rings of pink flowers off and on throughout spring and summer.  The small, native bees just love the flowers.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite flowering cactus?

Celebrating “Second Spring” in the Southwest Garden

It has been a week since we adopted Aesop, our desert tortoise.

I must admit that I initially thought that tortoises were rather boring.  But, Aesop is anything but.

our desert tortoise (Aesop)

our desert tortoise (Aesop)

Our backyard is fairly big and Aesop has been busy exploring every nook and cranny.

Yesterday, I had a rare day where I was able to sit at my computer and write all day.  When I would pause now and then to look outside, I often saw Aesop making his way across the lawn toward his favorite clump of shrubs or sitting eating grass.

our desert tortoise (Aesop)

In the afternoon, when I looked out the window to see where he was, I was surprised to see him on the patio, looking in the window at me!

Besides hanging out underneath our shrubs and eating grass, Aesop likes to drink water and has even tried some cilantro.

Tobey

Last evening, we were alerted to Aesop’s presence by our smallest dog, Tobey, who gets very excited whenever he sees him walking.  But this time, Tobey seem extra agitated.

When I looked out the window, I saw Aesop entertaining a visitor…

feral cats

One of the feral cats who visit our garden from time to time, was standing a couple of feet away from Aesop.  It was obvious that the cat had never seen a tortoise before and didn’t quite know what to make of him.

Aesop didn’t seem intimidated by the cat’s presence as he was busy eating grass.

We are enjoying Aesop’s adventures and are so happy with our decision to adopt him!

Meet “Aesop” Our Sonoran Desert Tortoise

Have you ever found yourself driving through a neighborhood past landscapes planted with the commonly planted lantana and oleander shrubs when you see something completely different that catches your attention?

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a client’s home in North Phoenix and started on my way home, when I drove past this beautiful, drought tolerant landscape.  

Great Landscape Design: Drought Tolerant and Beautiful!

Beautiful drought tolerant landscape.

The corner of the landscape was anchored by an ocotillo whose graceful canes added needed height to the landscape.

Palo brea trees add year round green color and yellow flowers are so set appear later in spring.

Globe mallow(Sphaeralcea ambigua) adds a welcome spot of orange in late winter and into spring and will bloom again in fall.

Cacti and agave add great texture contrast with their unique shapes. The Argentine giant cactus(Echinopsis candicans) willproduce large, lily-like flowers in spring.  

americana, lophantha and victoria-reginae

Beautiful drought tolerant landscape.

Several species of agave have been used throughout the landscape including Agave species americana, lophantha and victoria-reginae.  With so much variety in the color and sizes available in agaves, there is one for almost any landscape situation.

Several different cacti are tucked in here and there leading one to want to walk around and discover what else is growing in the garden.

The thin, upright succulent stems of candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) add great texture contrast when planted next to succulents and cacti with thicker leaves/stems.

The main planting area in the center is on a slightly elevated area, which offers a glimpse of the plants located toward the back. Landscape design that creates areas that artfully take center stage and then recede into the background as you walk through, which creates intrigue and heightens the desire to see what else is present in the garden.

drought tolerant landscape

Aloes, which do best in light shade, are scattered throughout the landscape, which add color in late winter into spring.

In the background, the orange, tubular flowers Mexican honeysuckle(Justicia spicigera) attracts hummingbirds all year long.

Variegated agave americana adds great color contrast with their bi-colored leaves while Indian fig prickly pear(Opuntia ficus-indica) adds height in the background.  

Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii)

  I love this unusual pathway that zig-zags through the landscape.  Golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii)are used to greatest effect by grouping them in 3’s.

Large boulders finish the landscape adding mass and texture while not needing any pruning or water.

It’s important to note that large boulders like this may need heavy equipment to place. If you want to avoid the hassle and expense of using heavy equipment, you can place 2 medium-sized boulders next to each other for a similar effect.

There are several things that I enjoyed so much about this landscape.  One is how they used a large amount of different plant species without it looking ‘busy’.  Also, instead of laying out the entire landscape where you can see everything from the street, this one leads you on a path of discovery when you are treated to glimpses at what is located further in.

***********************

This past week was event filled along with some rather unexpected occurrences for me.  One was that for the first time since early January, my calendar was quite suddenly empty.  I had several landscape consultations scheduled that were cancelled at the last minute by clients and rescheduled for various reasons including a flooded house to a puppy eating a cigar.

It was rather disconcerting to go from trying to keep my head above water to having the gift of extra time on my hands, but I enjoyed it and got some gardening articles finished ahead of looming deadlines.  

granddaughter, Lily

Last week was also a big milestone for my husband who turned 50.  We celebrated throughout the week, but one of our favorite outings was breakfast at Joe’s Farm & Grill with our granddaughter, Lily.

On a sad note, our friend, neighbor and vet passed away unexpectedly on Friday.  He had treated the furry members of our family for 18 years with love and respect.  We were also blessed to have been his neighbor for over 15 years.

We will miss his loving care for our animals, seeing him and his wife walk their dogs in the evening and even the lemons he would leave at our door.

After hearing the shocking news of his death, I had a hard time focusing on anything else this weekend and even writing took a backseat – hence the lack of blog posts.  But, it was a blessing to be able to set work aside for few days and let the loss sink in.

My schedule is now filled up again with appointments and the desert is awash in spring color, which is a busy time in the garden.

I hope your week is off to a good start.  

10 Tips for Drought Tolerant Gardening

A few weeks ago, I was asked by one of my editors to come up with a list of the top 10 plants that every resident of the Southwest should consider adding to their landscape.

I must admit that the task was a bit daunting at first – not because I couldn’t think of enough plants.  The problem was that my list was much larger.

I had to pare my list down and decided to focus on plants that would grow in zones 7 – 10, which cover much of the desert Southwest.  In addition, they had to be low-maintenance, native, beautiful and easy to grow.

Southwestern Landscape

Southwestern Landscape

After considering all of the criteria, I still had about 20 plants.  So, I added one other criteria of my own – how easy is it to find at your local nursery?  

At the end, I had 10 plants that I was very happy with – but I could have easily added a lot more 😉  

I hope you enjoy reading through this list of 10 essential plants for the desert Southwest.    

*I’d love to hear what plants you would include in your list of 10 favorites.  

10 Top Plants Native to the Desert Southwest

Tour of Sustainable Southwestern Landscape: Part 1

Do you have a list of favorite plants for your Southwestern garden?

I do.

Today, I’d like to share with you about one of my favorite shrubs, desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).

desert ruellia

It has beautiful, light-green foliage and purple flowers that appear off an on throughout the year, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.

Unlike its cousin (Ruellia brittoniana), desert ruellia does not take over the garden space.

It needs little maintenance, and looks great with a variety of other flowering plants.

For more information on where this lovely shrub grows, how to plant it and how to use it in the landscape, check out my latest plant profile for Houzz.com

 

To see my other plant profiles for Houzz, click here.

June is here, which marks the official beginning of hot, dry weather throughout the southwest.

While most of us can be found indoors in the comfort of air-conditioning – your plants can be suffering from the heat and intense sunlight.

May and June can be some of the most difficult months for plants in the garden until the summer rains arrive in late June.

Need some helpful tips for your June garden?

Here is my June “to-do” list that I wrote for Houzz.com.